The Marine nominated to be the Corps’ next commandant told Congress the service’s special operators are “vital,” and showed no hesitation to proceed with budgetary plans to continue to grow the small force.

Lt. Gen. David H. Berger, the current deputy commandant for Marine Combat Development and Integration, was responding to questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-New York, about whether Marine Corps Special Operations Command should be “disestablished,” as was recommended in a recent think tank article.

“At this stage they have developed farther, faster than most thought possible,” Berger said. “I think they’re vital. I think the (Special Operations Forces) and the command are better with them there.”

Berger has been tapped to take over as commandant when Gen. Robert B. Neller steps down at the end of his four-year tour later this year. The three-star is a former reconnaissance Marine.

In late March another Marine veteran Dakota Wood, who now works as a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation, wrote a report centered on rebuilding the Marine Corps. The central theme of his research focused on how the Marine Corps has strayed from its amphibious mission.

He highlighted the growth of MARSOC and the resources that he says pull from the Corps as part of that mission distraction. Wood advocated for the elimination of the command to refocus on the Corps’ role in its primary calling.

Though a small piece of a detailed report, the below paragraph is what triggered the senator’s question, which Blumenthal said he wanted to continue to explore.

“MARSOC, while a boon to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) and doing good work for the country, is an opportunity cost for the Corps. The Marines consistently resisted creating a special operations component until directed to do so in 2006, driven by a shortage of special operations teams needed to prosecute the global war on terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001. That national emergency has long been over, and the Corps should redirect its efforts to its primary role,” Wood wrote.

The Corps seems to have no such plans to let go of MARSOC.

In its 2018 budget request, the Corps originally asked for funding to add another 368 MARSOC personnel.

At that time the MARSOC end-strength goal was 3,110, MARSOC spokesman Maj. Nick Mannweiler told Marine Corps Times. MARSOC had 2,742 active-duty Marines then.

“The recommendations made in the paper are one aspect of a much broader conversation on Marine Corps and joint operations in response to our evolving national security challenges. MARSOC will continue to partner with our fellow Marines in enhancing lethality, interoperability, integration and interdependence as well as with our rich network of SOF and interagency partners," Mannweiler wrote in an email.

Activated in 2006, MARSOC is the newest group of special operations forces under the U.S. Special Operations Command umbrella. Marines declined to form such a unit when SOCOM was founded in 1986, despite the World War II heritage of the Marine Raiders, one of the earliest modern U.S. special operations-type units.

The critical skills operator job wasn’t a primary MOS until 2011. The officer designation came in 2014.

Senior Reporter Shawn Snow contributed to this report.